By Jay Bookman
If you honestly, sincerely believe that human life begins at the moment that sperm is introduced to egg, certain conclusions flow logically from that starting point, including that abortion is murder and that banning abortion is a moral obligation on a par with banning slavery.
I strongly disagree with that approach, but I understand it, and I respect the passion of those who take that position out of deep faith. Personally, I’m just not smart enough to say I know when human life begins, and I’m not arrogant enough to insist that whatever conclusion I reach on that topic must be made binding on everybody else in the country. That degree of certainty eludes me.
And while I can’t pinpoint when it starts, I do know that human life as we live it is immensely complicated and at times difficult, confronting us with circumstances in which no choice seems the right choice, when we are reduced to making the least worst decision.
At its most fundamental level, I believe, freedom must mean that the individual has the right to make such complicated choices for herself, rather than be dictated to by one rule applied to all situations and imposed by legislators who have no understanding of the circumstances and no direct stake in the outcome.
Life is just not so neat as to allow such easy answers.
And increasingly, I’m starting to doubt the good faith and sincerity of many who have long insisted upon conception as the legal and moral starting point of life, particularly here in Georgia. The chasm between what they say and what they do has become too great.
Under current Georgia law, adopted in 2019, a human embryo is a legally recognized, legally protected person, with all the rights and protections that implies. For example, a woman who became pregnant at 11:59 p.m. on Dec. 31 can theoretically claim that embryo as a deduction on that year’s taxes.
“It is about establishing personhood of the unborn child, in the tax code, for child support for mothers, in our census counts, across our (legal) code, so that we can lay the foundation that no other state in the nation in the last 46 years has ever done, which is to establish the personhood of this child,” state Rep. Ed Setzler, a sponsor of the legislation, explained at the time.
Yet, under that same state law, a human embryo/person in Georgia can legally be aborted before six weeks’ gestation time. How can that be? If an embryo is a full-fledged human being under state law, how can state law also condone what amounts to murder of that human being in its first six weeks? Logically, it cannot. Yet it does.
During his successful re-election campaign, Gov. Brian Kemp said that he would not attempt to further tighten state laws regarding abortion. Lt. Gov. Burt Jones has taken a similar tack, saying he has no intention of bringing up the issue this legislative session.
If you look at the polls and other signs, the reason for their hesitation is obvious.
Since Roe v. Wade was overturned, six states have held abortion-related referendums. In every case, voters have rejected abortion bans and voted to protect choice. In states such as California, the margin was predictably large, 67.9% to 33.1%. But even in a deep-red state such as Kansas, voters overwhelmingly rejected an effort to weaken pro-choice provisions in the state constitution, 59%-41%.
Georgia Republicans have the political power, with substantial majorities in the House and Senate and control of every statewide office, to follow the dictates of their conscience and ban abortion altogether. The Supreme Court has removed any legal obstacle blocking them from taking that action, and their decades-long commitment to the idea that life begins at conception has presumably given them a moral mandate to act. Yet they will not.
Either they don’t really believe that life begins at conception, and this has all been an act, or they are willing to allow the ongoing “murder” of thousands of embryos/human beings because trying to stop it would endanger their grip on power. If there’s a third explanation, I’m not seeing it.
Jay Bookman is a columnist at the Georgia Recorder, a media outlet of the States Newsroom. He covered Georgia and national politics for nearly 30 years for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, earning numerous national, regional and state journalism awards. He was awarded the National Headliner Award and the Walker Stone Award for outstanding editorial writing. He is also the author of “Caught in the Current,” published by St. Martin’s Press. The Florida Phoenix is part of the nonprofit States Newsroom.